Case Studies, New Zealand

John Foster

John Foster
Prescription fertiliser pushes clover production ‘through the roof’

“It used to be all about the grass but working with Corey has shown me it’s actually all about the soil,” said Hawkes Bay farmer John Foster. John works alongside his son, Simon, over-wintering ten thousand lambs, 400 breeding cows, 100 two-year heifers and 100 one-year heifers on 1,170ha of rolling to steep Hawkes Bay hill country about 20 kilometres from the coast. The main farm is split into two blocks – with the upper block mainly steep and the lower block rolling to easy. Two years ago, they leased an additional 130ha block of land from his neighbour.

John has been working with iFert’s Corey Martin for over fifteen years and credits the changes he’s seen in pasture diversity and quality to Corey’s advice and prescription fertiliser treatments over the years.

“Initially our soil structure was poor with few earthworms and not much clover – it’s not free-draining soil, so compaction and thatch problems just made it worse. When we started, Corey dug a square spade of soil and counted eight earthworms – we test on that spot every year and at last count there were 72.”

John wanted to move away from super phosphate, so his initial change was to fine particle lime to ‘sweeten up the soil and get the earthworms working’. “Corey tested and analysed the soil and found out which nutrients and trace elements were missing, so we set about correcting things.”

Corey calls it identifying the limiting factors on the farm. The soil across the farm has a low anion storage capacity (13%) reducing its capacity to hold on to negatively charged nutrients like nitrogen, sulphate and phosphate – so Corey focused on sustained release treatments. The farm was treated in two blocks, alternating applications of iPrills containing lime, sulphur, trace elements and the biostimulant organoplex, year on year, with exception of one whole-farm treatment in 2015. As the soil structure, respiration rate and earthworm numbers improved, the treatment changed to an annual application of iPhos.

According to Simon Foster, it’s easy to see the physical response to Corey’s fertiliser regime across the farm. “When Corey first got involved, there was a lot of thatch stopping nutrients and moisture getting through to the grass roots, which is a sign that the soil biology isn’t working well. The organic matter gets broken down much more quickly now. “We’ve got clovers everywhere – red, white and sub – even on the south-facing slopes.

Stock grazing patterns have changed as well, with the animals feeding on every part of the paddock, there’s no rank grass and hardly any brown to be seen across the farm. “We’ve got cleaner, healthier stock too,” said Simon. “We used to spend a lot of time dagging lambing and now we don’t do much at all.”

When he leased 130ha of land from his neighbour, Simon asked Corey to carry out some soil testing so that he could bring the new block up to full production as soon as possible. They’ve put on five treatments to date to push pasture condition and clover — and the land has come on in leaps and bounds. Resin P levels have moved from 48 to 85 and Olsen P levels from 19 to 28.

“When we looked at the grass roots, they went down a couple of inches and then went horizontal – searching for nutrients. We’ve recently taken another look and the roots go straight down, much deeper – aerating the soil and pushing nitrogen from the clover further into the soil.”

According to John and Simon, the farm is humming but they know that keeping a close eye on nutrient levels is the key to keeping it that way. “Corey has shown us that important nutrients walk off the farm with the stock – so we need to keep replacing them. Clover production is through the roof, we’ve got more diversity in the pasture and it’s more palatable — the animals are looking great. We’re really happy with the way the farm’s going.”